FreeDrafto, Pt. 3: How Soon Is Now?
To some extent, every NBA Draft has influenced the following one, but the trends have become more pronounced in recent years, with the League attempting to figure out what to do with foreign and high school players, neither of whom played much of a factor as recently as a decade ago. The epochal 2001 Draft led many scouts around the league to go back to their teams with their tails between their legs and led many fans to believe their heads were up their asses. None of the high schoolers picked in the Lottery have even sniffed an All-Star Game, while Pau Gasol went on to win ROY and lead a Grizzly resurgence of a sort (we’re talking about the Grizz here), and Vladimir Radmanovic has proved to be a valuable player in Seattle. Thinking they had learned their lesson (that foreign players are more ready than American high schoolers), the 2002 Draft saw the great minds of the NBA selecting Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Nene Hilario several spots ahead of man-child Amare Stoudemire.
With the issue of foreigners vs. high schoolers still unresolved, 2003 saw the drafting of our hero Darko Milicic sandwiched between American hoops prodigies Lebron and Carmelo. But last year, NBA execs seemed to have things pretty well figured out. The early lottery saw a good mix of proven college stars and talented high schoolers, with the first Euro, Andris Biedren, going at #11 to team of the future Golden State. The jury is still out on Biedren, but they’re busy deliberating about high schoolers Robert Swift and Dorrell Wright, as well.
If there is any lesson to be learned from the 2004 Draft, it is taught to us by the electrifying Smith Bros. (no relation), Josh and J.R., who went back to back at #17 and #18, respectively. Both swingmen, neither one fit the mold of other wings who had made the jump straight from high school. Kobe and T-Mac were both highly skilled athletes with relatively polished all around games. By contrast, Josh came in with only one definable skill (jumping really fucking high), and J.R. added to that uncanny 3-point range, but neither showed any ball-handling or mid-range skills to speak of.
If there was any precedent for the Smiths, it was not Kobe or T-Mac, but the 23rd pick of the 2000 NBA Draft, Deshawn Stevenson, who boasts a career scoring average of 6.7 ppg. On paper, the Smiths seemed to share his raw athletic ability and low basketball IQ, a package that rightfully did not seem too appealing to most NBA scouts, and they accordingly fell out of the Lottery. But, both Smiths excelled in their rookie years, averaging around 10 points a game and contributing numerous highlight-reel dunks, blocks, and 3-pointers. Indeed, just perusing a collection of still photos of Josh Smith in action is enough to cause one’s jaw to drop. Together, they caused NBA execs to forget about the Deshawn Stevensons and Harold Minors of the past and seemingly proved that incredible athleticism really can be enough to make it in the League.
So, what does this mean for 2005? Is there a Smith in this year’s Draft, or are the Smiths yet another Draft myth to be debunked? Gerald Green seems to fit the mold the closest. He combines Josh’s length and ups with J.R.'s ability to wet jumpers from deep. But, he lacks the all-around skills of Kobe or T-Mac, making “the next T-Mac” comparison preposterous, although the fact that both were largely unheralded during their early high school years does make it tempting. However, the player who will likely benefit the most from the success of the Smiths is 2007’s Bill “Dirty McNasty” Walker, teammate of O.J. Mayo and the most talked-about high school dunker since Vince Carter. Watch your head.